As a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, Bears safety Tashaun Gipson played against the Los Angeles Rams during Sean McVay’s first season as Rams coach. In Gipson’s eyes, McVay’s offense now looks nothing like it did in 2017.
“I don't remember being so confused by a lot of the motions and the routes that come off of that,” Gipson said. “It's just him, man. He's a great offensive guy. You have to tip your hat to him.”
When the Baltimore Ravens plastered the Rams on Nov. 25 at the Los Angeles Coliseum last season, they did it by sending players in motion countless times in that game. The Ravens rushed for 285 yards in that 45-6 drubbing. McVay’s Rams rushed for 22.
McVay took notes, though.
The Rams have opened the 2020 season doing the same exact thing. They send a receiver in motion across formation before the snap and often at the time of the snap. They’ll use that man in motion as either a diversion or as a way to get an extra blocker moving at full speed from the snap.
Statistics on teams using motion at the snap – as opposed to sending a man in motion and then having that man set before the snap – are hard to find. According to ESPN Analytics reporter Seth Walder, the Rams are using the tactic more than anyone except for the Ravens. Los Angeles had a man in motion at the time of the snap on 31.3% of plays in a Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. That same week the Ravens did so on a whopping 51.6% of snaps.
Football YouTuber Brett Kollmann did a phenomenal breakdown of the Rams motion. It's all about creating deception.
Moving a man in motion naturally draws the linebackers in that direction. The motion makes defenders think and it keeps them guessing as to who is going to be blocking whom.
“It can get you cross eyed,” Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “They do as good a job as I’ve ever seen. Just a phenomenal job because it’s precise, it’s precision, and they will tempo you and they will run to the ball.”
Receiver Robert Woods is frequently in jet motion from one set of numbers to the other. Woods has 10 carries this year, frequently out of these motions, and he has piled up 76 yards for a 7.6 average.
The Rams went from the 26th-ranked rushing offense in 2019 to currently 10th-ranked in 2020. Running back Darrell Henderson is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, while Malcolm Brown is averaging 3.9 and Cam Akers is averaging 4.3.
“That's how they're able to get a lot of teams,” Gipson said. “Their motion and they mess with your eyes a lot of the time. It's tough for guys to be able to kind of sit there and play fast.”
Just when the Rams lull an opponent to sleep with all those runs out of motion, they pull it back for play action and take a deep shot.
“If one guy sees it this way and the other one goes this way, you’ve got a gaping whole in the middle of your defense,” Pagano said. “Then they don’t hand it off and it’s play action pass and you’ve got routes running vertically up the field all over the place.”
The Rams fell behind 14-0 early last week against San Francisco and were forced to pass more to get back into the game. That’s when quarterback Jared Goff struggled.
Los Angeles has built leads by going to that motion run game early. Punch the Rams in the mouth early, and the Bears might find a way to knock them off their game.
It will take discipline from the defense to do that.
“We're excited for the challenge, but we understand the challenge that lies ahead of us,” Gipson said. “It's an innovative offense. It's something that I've never seen before.”